Pranksters

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R.I.P. Tom Hayden (1939-2016)

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Yippie activist, Chicago 7 defendant, California State Assemblyman, author, publisher, rabble-rouser, and Los Angeles legend Tom Hayden has passed away at the age of 76.


“Prominent Antiwar Activist and Member of the ‘Chicago 7’ Tom Hayden Dead at 76”
by Reuters Staff
The Huffington Post
October 24, 2016

aotptomhaydenVeteran social activist and politician Tom Hayden, a stalwart of America’s New Left who served 18 years in California’s state legislature and gained a dash of Hollywood glamour by marrying actress Jane Fonda, has died at age 76, according to media reports.

Hayden died in Santa Monica, California, after a lengthy illness, The Los Angeles Times reported on its website.

“A political giant and dear friend has passed,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote on Twitter, adding “Tom Hayden fought harder for what he believed than just about anyone I have known.”

Hayden, who forged his political activism as a founding member of Students for a Democratic Society, which stood at the core of the 1960s anti-war and civil rights movements, was principal author of the group’s revolutionary manifesto, the Port Huron Statement.

The University of Michigan student ventured into the Deep South, where he joined voter registration campaigns and was arrested and beaten while taking part in the “freedom rider” protests against racial segregation.

Hayden, however, became perhaps best known as one of the “Chicago Seven” activists tried on conspiracy and incitement charges following protests at the turbulent 1968 Democratic National Convention. He was ultimately acquitted of all charges. Read more.

James O’Keefe’s October Surprise

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters

It wouldn’t feel like an election year without a fresh sting from right-wing culture jammer James O’Keefe.


“Everything We Know About the Latest James O’Keefe Video Sting”
by Philip Elliot
Time
October 18, 2016

James O'keefe

The latest ‘gotcha’ videos from conservative provocateur James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas Action have some shocking claims that, if they are true, would indicate Democrats are playing dirty to get Hillary Clinton elected.

In one video, a contractor seems to brag about sending homeless and mentally ill people to harass Republicans. Someone identified as a Democratic National Committee staffer appears to claim credit for pushing Republican contender Donald Trump’s rally in Chicago toward violence. In another, consultants look like they are describing a plan to bus voters across state lines and registering immigrants in the country illegally to vote.

But if O’Keefe’s previous efforts to infiltrate and expose his foes such as ACORN and NPR are to offer a hint, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. O’Keefe has previously spliced videos together to imply its subjects were saying things they were not.

Even so, the latest video has cost someone identified by the Democratic National Committee chairwoman “a temporary, regional sub-contractor” his job. Another established DNC vendor gave up his contract. Another protester who says she was at the Chicago melee linked herself to Clinton’s campaign, although she was paid for work in Arizona in the weeks before anything happened in Illinois.

The release of the videos made conservatives giddy that O’Keefe had claimed yet more scalps for his long-standing effort to show liberal hypocrisy through hidden-camera footage. And more embarrassing videos are expected to come before Election Day, O’Keefe promised. Donald Trump urged his audiences in Colorado on Tuesday to go online and watch them. Read more.

A Visit to Scarfolk, the UK’s Weirdest Fake Town

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire, The Prank as Art

Atlas Obscura presents a tourist’s guide to Richard Littler’s eerie, anachronistic, made-up universe. Fans of Welcome to Night Vale may be particularly intrigued.


“Digging Through the Archives of Scarfolk, the Internet’s Creepiest Fake Town”
by Cara Giaimo
Atlas Obscura
October 17, 2016

scarfolkIn 1978, the town of Scarfolk, in northwest England, cut its police budget in half. This drastic measure was followed by a wave of violent crime. To deal with the influx of dead bodies, the remaining police did the obvious thing—they teamed up with the “Keep Britain Tidy” campaign, and encouraged citizens, especially children, to pick up “victim debris” themselves.

If this sounds too grotesque to be true, don’t worry—it is! There were never any smiling, appendage-finding kids in Scarfolk, because Scarfolk never existed. But the town’s online presence is meticulously detailed and impressively creepy. For three years, graphic designer Richard Littler has been using his design skills and bone-dry wit to write a whole history of Scarfolk, a fictional, supernatural-tinged town that finds humor in dystopia, and is closer to today’s world than we might like to think.

Scarfolk is perpetually stuck in the 1970s, and repeats the decade on loop. On his blog, “Scarfolk Council,” Littler presents the town’s story through materials from the council’s “archive”: posters, pamphlets and packaging that reveal aspects of everyday life. Carefully Photoshopped and inspired by real source material, Littler’s creations pack a punch—with their pastel, large fonted bombast, they could easily be mistaken for actual ’70s artifacts. Read more.

Alex Chang Plumbs the Depths of Telemarketing Scammers

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Prank News, Pranksters, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks

A scambaiting expedition leads to an unexpected conclusion:


aotp_office
“I trolled my IRS scammers for weeks. I learned something really dark.”
by Alex Chang
Vox
October 18, 2016

These scammers had called me so many times that I knew their script.

They always introduced themselves as IRS officers with inconspicuous American names, like “Paul Thomas.” They called to collect the $6,000 I owed the IRS. And if I didn’t pay, they threatened to send the local police to arrest me.

They were unconvincing. I didn’t understand how this scam could work on anyone. But a quick search led me to a couple in Tennessee, a student in Virginia, and thousands of others who’d fallen for the scam. There was something about this scam that worked — and I had to find out what it was.

So I got further and further into the scam. At first, I played along for a few minutes and then hung up. After a few days, I trolled them with the vast amount I learned about their operation. Then, on a hot mid-September day, I decided enough was enough.

I was going to get to the end of this scam.

That’s how I ended up talking to “Steve Smith” for 30 minutes. He was a senior investigations officer — the actual person who walks you through how to send them money. I learned that his secret is maintaining an aura of authority. That’s how he optimizes fear. That’s how he gets people to suspend logic, drive to Walgreens, and buy iTunes gift cards to pay the IRS. The scam takes advantage of the most vulnerable people. Read more.


First Date Wedding Prank

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Pranksters

Laura Bubble does a YouTube prank to raise money for Stand Up To Cancer. Says Laura Bubble, “I filmed a first date tinder prank where I turned up in a wedding dress!”, via Mashable.


First Date Wedding Prank


Improv Everywhere: The Mp3 Experiment Thirteen

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Prank News, Pranksters

Thousands of people listening to synchronized instructions participate in an audio adventure on Governors Island.

mp3 Experiment 13

Watch the video:

Full story here. And check out the recent Surprise Press Conference here.


A Peek Inside the Process of Faux-Documentarian Christopher Guest

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Filed under: Parody, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire, The Prank as Art

Christopher Guest has built a career on the quirks of his passionate and unusual characters, from rock stars to dog-show emcees, while faithfully mimicking the documentary format. As he returns to explore the inner lives of sports mascots, Time looks at what makes his humanistic comedy machine run.


Mascots and the Very Serious Business of Making a Christopher Guest Movie”
by Eliza Berman
Time
October 14, 2016

poseyWhen Parker Posey got a call from Christopher Guest offering her a part in his next movie, she already knew the drill. Having appeared in all four of the faux-documentaries Guest had written and directed since 1997, she knew he’d give her the basic character sketch—in this case, Cindi Babineaux, a mascot for a Mississippi women’s college basketball team who’s aging out of her tenure as Alvin the Armadillo—and it would be her job to fill in the details. “The nine-banded armadillo is limited,” she says, recalling her attempts to crack the character. “They’re mainly roadkill.” She pauses. “That’s an interesting angle.”

Finding the interesting angle on idiosyncratic subcultures and the Cindi Babineauxs that comprise them has driven Guest’s work over the past two decades. Movies like Best in Show, about competitive dog breeders and trainers, and A Mighty Wind, about a folk-music reunion concert, have won the onetime Saturday Night Live cast member legions of devoted fans. His particular brand of comedy, which originated with the cult classic This Is Spinal Tap in 1984, directed by Rob Reiner and co-written by Reiner, Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean, applies the conventions of self-serious documentary filmmaking to unexpected, if not undeserving, fictional subjects.

In Mascots, Guest’s first film in a decade, premiering on Netflix Oct. 13, he and co-writer Jim Piddock turn their gaze—with the help of a flock of returning cast members including Posey, Jane Lynch, Fred Willard and Ed Begley Jr.—toward the men and women who dance in poorly ventilated animal suits to bring smiles to the faces of amateur sports fans. Read more.


R.I.P. Dario Fo (1926-2016)

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Parody, Political Challenges, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire, The History of Pranks

Revered playwright, comedian, Nobel laureate, and prankster patron saint Dario Fo has passed away at the age of 90.


Nobel laureate Dario Fo, who mocked politics, religion, dies
by Frances D’Emilio and Nicole Winfield
AP
October 13, 2016

Dario Fo

Dario Fo

Italian playwright Dario Fo, whose energetic mocking of Italian political life, social mores and religion won him praise, scorn and the Nobel Prize for Literature, died Thursday. He was 90.

Fo died Thursday morning in Milan’s Luigi Sacco hospital after suffering respiratory complications from a progressive pulmonary disease, said the chief of pulmonology, Dr. Delfino Luigi Legnani. Fo had been working on a new stage production with collaborators in his hospital room up until his final days, Legnani said.

The author of “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” and more than 70 other plays saw himself as playing the role of the jester, combining raunchy humor and scathing satire that continued into his final years. He was admired and reviled in equal measure.

His political activities saw him banned from the United States and censored on Italian television, and his flamboyant artistic antics resulted in repeated arrests. Read more.


Ghostwatch Remembered

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Looking back on a controversial BBC show called Ghostwatch and its creator Stephen Volk, a hoaxer who out-Orsoned War of the Worlds.


“The BBC Halloween Hoax That Traumatized Viewers”
by Jake Rossen
Mental Floss
October 6, 2016

aotp_ghostwatchAfter more than 20,000 phone calls, one induced labor, and thousands of angry letters, the UK’s Broadcasting Standards Council convened for a hearing. On June 27, 1995, they ruled that the producers of Ghostwatch, a BBC program that aired on Halloween night less than three years earlier, had deliberately set out to “cultivate a sense of menace.”

Put another way, the BBC had been found to be complicit in scaring 11 million people senseless.

Airing from Northolt, North London, Ghostwatch alleged to report on the paranormal experiences of the Early family, which had been besieged by the actions of a ghostly apparition they called “Pipes.” Four recognized BBC presenters appeared on the show, which took on the appearance of a straightforward documentary and offered only subtle clues that it was an elaborate hoax. For a significant portion of viewers, it appeared as though they were witnessing documented evidence of a malevolent spirit.

Viewers grew so disturbed by the content that the network became embroiled in a controversy over what audiences felt was a ruse perpetrated by a trustworthy news source; cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in children were even reported in the British Medical Journal. What the BBC had intended to be nothing more alarming than an effective horror movie had petrified a country—and would eventually lead to accusations that it was responsible for someone’s death. Read more.


A Golden Throne for America’s Royal Hiney

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The Prank as Art

In what reads like a pitch for an art film or a postmodern fever dream, journalist Carey Dunne goes on a thoughtful search for the story behind artist Maurizio Cattelan’s “epic troll,” a solid gold toilet named “America”.


“Waiting To Pee in ‘America,’ the Gold Toilet at the Guggenheim”
by Carey Dunne
Hyperallergic
September 23, 2016

aotp_americaWhile waiting in line to pee in “America,” a toilet cast in 18-karat gold and installed in a Guggenheim Museum bathroom, I ran into my friend Fritz Mead, who lives in a shack he built himself out of scrap wood in a backyard next to a skate bowl he also built himself. The shack doesn’t have plumbing, so to use a working toilet he has to leave his shack and go into the basement apartment next door.

Given his apparent ambivalence about plumbing — let alone luxury plumbing — I was surprised to see Fritz waiting to use the gold toilet, which is the work of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. Estimated to be worth as much as $2.5 million, “America” (which opened at the Guggenheim last week), will remain installed in an otherwise ordinary fourth floor bathroom for a year. (When asked exactly how much the toilet cost, a guard said, “If you have to ask, you already know,” a riddle I am still trying to solve.)

Cattelan “intends visitors to use the toilet just as they would any other facility in the building,” according to the wall text. It gets special treatment, though: only one visitor is allowed inside the stall at a time, for no more than five minutes; the toilet seat must not be lifted; a security guard inspects the toilet after each visit; and a cleaning crew cleans it with a special gold-cleaning product every 20 minutes. The wait time when I visited was two hours.

Read the rest of the story here.

DHMO in the Water, Mischief in the Air

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Pranks, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Dan Lewis’s conversation-starting email newsletter “Now I Know” looks back on a morning radio hoax that kicked up a storm.


“The Dangerous-Sounding Threat of DHMO”
by Dan Lewis
Now I Know
September 14, 2016

aotp_dhmoSt. John and Fish were, at the time, morning hours radio hosts for a Florida radio station. On April 1st of that year — and yes, that date should have been a clue — the duo decided to issue a public service announcement, telling listeners that dihydrogen monoxide was coming out of water taps in the area.

The reaction from what would hope was a small, small minority the listeners was fierce and nearly immediate. Enough people were fooled by the PSA that the county water board began fielding calls, and at 8:30 AM that day — about three-and-a-half hours into what should have been a five-hour radio show — St. John and Fish were taken off the air. The county issued a statement telling residents that the water was entirely safe and that this was just a joke gone bad (although without explaining the science), and the radio station, per the Atlantic, spent the rest of the day informing listeners of the same.

But beyond that, no big deal, right? Wrong — at least, according to the state’s Department of Health. Its spokesperson told the press that calling in “a false water quality issue” could be considered a felony in the state. The station, perhaps fearing liability, suspended the pair of DJs indefinitely. And listeners seemed OK with the punishment: according to USA Today, a (hardly scientific, but why should we get science involved here?) poll on the radio station’s website had a large majority — 77% — hoping that the two would never be welcomed back on the air. Read more.


Bare-Assed Pedaling for a Change

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Legal Issues, Prank News, Pranksters

World Naked Bike Ride Day, a recurring sight gag with a message of self-care and sustainability, streaks through Philly.


“Thousands of Naked Bicyclists Storm the City of Brotherly Love”
by Dino Hazell
AP
September 10, 2016

AP Photo: Dino Hazell

Thousands of bicyclists dared to be bare for the city’s annual nude ride promoting positive body image, cycling advocacy and fuel conservation.

About 3,000 people gathered Saturday for the eighth annual Philly Naked Bike Ride through the city’s streets. They set off from a park near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where Sylvester Stallone ran up the steps in the “Rocky” movies.

The annual ride featured people sporting underwear, body paint, glitter or nothing at all. Some riders concerned about being recognized by their parents or co-workers wore masks while others wore just their shoes.

“It’s a really open and fun way of destigmatizing nudity,” said Oren Eisenberg, who was riding nude for the fifth time. (more…)

Joey Skaggs to the NY Daily News, “You Gotta Realize There Are Consequences”

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Filed under: Hoax Etiquette, How to Pull Off a Prank, Legal Issues, Prank News, Pranksters, What Makes a Good Prank?

Call us snobs, sticklers… call us the Emily Post of prankdom. But releasing a bunch of live crickets in a crowded subway car, as Brooklyn’s Zadia Pugh was recently arrested for doing, isn’t much of a prank. When there is so much groupthink and hypocrisy to expose and so many passersby thirst for wonder and delight, it’s not enough to simply scare and annoy people. That’s a sad and boring way to go viral. People are plenty scared and annoyed as it is.

Legendary prankster Joey Skaggs was asked to comment on Pugh’s stunt and to lend some guidance to cavalier young instigators of her ilk. Irreverence is just the beginning.


“Seasoned prankster Joey Skaggs chides rookie Zadia Pugh for unleashing crickets on packed D train: ‘You gotta realize there are consequences'”
by Graham Rayman
New York Daily News
September 3, 2016

crickets4n-2-webAs a prankster, Zaida Pugh — who terrified straphangers in August when she released live crickets on a packed subway train — is no more than a misguided rookie.

And Joey Skaggs should know.

For the past 40 years, Skaggs, 70, a New Yorker who now lives “somewhere in the south,” has conned the media into reporting fake stories as fact.

His elaborate pranks include creating a brothel for dogs and posing as a man who invented a vitamin pill made of cockroaches which supposedly would make people invulnerable to radiation.

The press bought it.

He got the press to buy that he had windsurfed from Hawaii to California. He created a Celebrity Sperm Bank, and a “Fat Squad,” made up of commandos who supposedly physically restrained people from breaking their diets.

He unrepentantly posed as a priest and pedaled a full-size confessional booth around St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and got on the news for that, too.

Author Andrea Juno once wrote that he “uses the media as a painter uses a canvas.”

crickets4n-4-webSkaggs told the Daily News on Saturday even though Pugh claimed to be making a statement about homelessness, her stunt on the Manhattan Bridge on Aug. 24 was “irresponsible and dangerous.”

“To me, the expose’ is the most important part,” he said. “It’s not the ‘hahaha, I got you.’ It’s the ‘Aha.’ When they realize they have put aside critical thinking.

“The goal is to get people to become more media literate and more skeptical about information that’s given to them by governments and corporations. And you have to be ethical and careful in going about it.” Read more.


Trolls are Eating the Internet

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Filed under: First Amendment Issues, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

If a prankster is a surgeon, a troll is a drunk swinging an axe. They are distinct but have a few things in common, including a tendency to thrive on the internet. In this piece, Joel Stein addresses a particularly artless strain of digital hate and warns that it’s poisoning the pool.


“How Trolls are Ruining the Internet”
by Joel Stein
Time
August 18, 2016

AOTP_TrollfaceThis story is not a good idea. Not for society and certainly not for me. Because what trolls feed on is attention. And this little bit–these several thousand words–is like leaving bears a pan of baklava.

It would be smarter to be cautious, because the Internet’s personality has changed. Once it was a geek with lofty ideals about the free flow of information. Now, if you need help improving your upload speeds the web is eager to help with technical details, but if you tell it you’re struggling with depression it will try to goad you into killing yourself. Psychologists call this the online disinhibition effect, in which factors like anonymity, invisibility, a lack of authority and not communicating in real time strip away the mores society spent millennia building. And it’s seeping from our smartphones into every aspect of our lives.

The people who relish this online freedom are called trolls, a term that originally came from a fishing method online thieves use to find victims. It quickly morphed to refer to the monsters who hide in darkness and threaten people. Internet trolls have a manifesto of sorts, which states they are doing it for the “lulz,” or laughs. What trolls do for the lulz ranges from clever pranks to harassment to violent threats. There’s also doxxing–publishing personal data, such as Social Security numbers and bank accounts–and swatting, calling in an emergency to a victim’s house so the SWAT team busts in. When victims do not experience lulz, trolls tell them they have no sense of humor. Trolls are turning social media and comment boards into a giant locker room in a teen movie, with towel-snapping racial epithets and misogyny. (more…)

Late-night Devil Worship at the CERN?

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Pranksters, Urban Legends

Someone filmed a fake human sacrifice at CERN laboratory
by Amar Toor
August 19, 2016

Officials at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) have launched an internal investigation after someone filmed a fake human sacrifice ritual at its Geneva headquarters, home to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). In the video, posted online this week, a group of people wearing dark robes stand in front of a Hindu statue before “stabbing” a woman, purportedly as some sort of ritual. It was filmed from afar, and the person who shot it pretended to freak out and ran away after the stabbing.

A CERN spokesperson tells the AFP that the prank video was shot without permission on its Geneva campus, and that the people who orchestrated it had badge access to the site. The spokesperson did not identify the people responsible for it, describing the investigation as an “internal matter.” Read the rest of the story here.